The Writing Process II, Part 2: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

RIPWriting is treasure mining, isn’t it? The sifting of options among all that language has to offer. In the process, leave the hollow expressions that lie buried from overkill to rest in peace. Settle on what’s attractive and weighty. Don’t clutter your collection with dry, ossified castoffs of nature that add nothing to your art.

If you’re writing about any of the following, you might wish to tread carefully:

Uh oh, yup: here come the tears. Or fluffy cotton. Sigh.

Please don’t pitter patter. Oh, please. If you’ll die unless you do, just patter.

Soft kisses
*sputtttter* Eww. Wipe off.

Do you know how many caresses happen to be velvet just like yours?

Something “coursing through” veins (usually passion)
Right. *shudder*

“Take flight”
Driver caution: slippery road.

Whispers of love
*Cringe* I’ll refrain.  Bad enough poor thing made my hit list.

This one’s forever Madonna’s: “Starlight, Starbright, first star I see tonight.” Doo roo roo, yeah baby.

The Ellipsis…
It sits in the technical toolbox for a reason. So that we can use it. But all too often it becomes an easy substitute for fuzzy thinking or an attempt to sound deep and contemplative. Let your words – the content – provoke thought. Go back and try removing these emotional markers. Go on. You will sound more crisp, better grounded.

The Holistic Wayfarer’s Lexicon of Clichés includes the exclamation point because it’s often overdone! That point under the punctuation is a drop of neon off the brush! I promise no one will miss your fuchsia, whether it’s your lips or the streak on your running shoes! In preparing to paint our first home to move into, my husband and I delighted in the thumb-sized square of peach pink on the color palette. We went on to secure a tub of the shade from the store and left it in the room for the painter. When he called to report the room finished, we hurried over. Opened the door. And screamed, “AAUUGGHH!” Suggesting itself on a swatch was one thing. Exploding on our walls was another. There was just no way. Husband whitewashed the room, then called me in to present a lovely peach pink trimming around the windows. As he was whiting out the eerie gaudiness, he discovered that just a touch of the color worked like a lovely picture frame in this case and brightened up the room.

Clichés are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the day-old aftermath lie lifeless, asking for the dignity of disposal. They are the makeup as obviously tired as the woman by the time she resigns the bar at four in the morning. I am not saying there is no more room in the literary world for cloud and tears. All right, I’m trying to be polite. But my Bible is right. There is nothing new under the sun. We all grow in the womb, cry at birth to cry in life, fear to love, love to laugh, wonder, hope, do not know, learn, believe, strive, sleep, sweat, dance and trip, birth children and dreams, eat and forget to nourish ourselves, work and work, and expire. But we want to say what is universal in our own way. You don’t need clichés muddied with handprints of the well-meaning masses. Make each your own description.

84 thoughts on “The Writing Process II, Part 2: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

  1. Cliches are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the week-old aftermath lie lifeless and embarrassed, asking for the dignity of disposal.

    I love the entire last paragraph!

  2. From: “Cliches are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the week-old aftermath lie lifeless and embarrassed, asking for the dignity of disposal.”

    Would it be correct to change “lie” to “lay?”

    From: “They are the makeup that’s as obviously tired as the woman by the time she resigns the bar at four in the morning.”

    Would it sound better if you wrote: “They are like the makeup on the face of the last girl to leave.”

    There is always something new. When I read your words, I see a new beginning to the ideas of cliche because as I read them I think of you and what you must be thinking. I think about who you must be. I think about the pink walls and your husband seemingly blindly painting them because you told him to. It speaks of your relationship.

    We grow in the womb, but less so I think than when we can give words to our thoughts. For so long as a child, I had trouble speaking. I had no words for what I saw. We cry because of frustration, we cry in fear, in love, and in wondering.

    There is hope in knowing or not knowing. When we learn, we learn to believe. We reach, even when we are sleeping and sweat just the same. We dance, we trip, we break our legs, and sometimes we never walk again.

    In not giving birth, we do not know what it is like. I have dreamed and eaten, I’ve forgotten to eat correctly and suffered. When we die, I know there is nothing, because memory is gone.

    In our lives, we want to share, what must be known, but we do not know that because it is our first time.

    Cliches give the appearance of not knowing the reader because if we did we wouldn’t be repetitive.

    • I had double-chked it in the draft stage: “lay” in the present tense takes an object “she lay him down.” And lie sounds better to me here anyway.

      I wanted to continue with the metaphors “..are the balloons…are the make-up…” I wanted to be as direct as possible so there was no need to go through the “like”. As to the rest of that line, your alternative works fine. I saw an older woman with the mascara blotching, careful layers of powder caking, testifying the party’s over, lady: you were a little too old for this. The girl who makes herself up for the night to LOOK OLDER is also a viable portrait. Though it was not needed, I wanted the visual of the shade of night — that dark just before the hint of dawn. But being the last one to leave keeps the focus on her, which is good.

      You were keen to pick up on something about my relationship with Husband, though in the wrong way. I did spell out that it was all a joint decision throughout. I didn’t make him do anything. BUT yes, he does often do as I ask. *chuckle*

      Why did you not have the words as a child? Incidentally (or not) did you read a lot growing up?

      I prefer, over my becoming paralyzed, your breaking our legs sometimes, not to walk again. But they are your thoughts so I can’t take them.

      Why you reward my writing with such thoughtful attention is beyond me. I would like to see poetry on your blog. I sense timidity (a possible post…about writers…in my head!. You are so good at renditions of my work but I know you can strike out on your own. Even now I don’t feel confident about the poetry that really is new terrain. But to use your own metaphor of birthing words, I chose not to fear the prospect of labor six years ago the way everyone I knew did planning to dull it all with anesthesia. We’ve been doing this since Adam and Eve. I trusted my body knew how to birth. All I could do is nourish myself and the little one as best I could and equip myself to embrace the pain and the process, and relax into them. Which is exactly what I did when push came to shove. At home, in water.

      To music.

      • There’s a lot going on and it is like giving birth in water with the sound of ambient music in the background. I am not much good with laying or lying.

        I love these: “I saw an older woman with the mascara blotching, careful layers of powder caking, testifying [that] the party’s over, lady: ‘You are a little too old for this,’ you told her. [Also,] the girl who makes herself up for the night to LOOK OLDER is also a viable portrait.”

        You spoke about your relationship with your husband. I didn’t pick up on the joint decision. Probably projection on my part.

        I read.

        You can take my thoughts, after all, you inspired them.

        I spend time because you leave me just enough and the content is interesting to cause me to question, besides, for some reason I feel I am going to meet someone like you. Your relationship with your husband and being in a relationship seems to have much appeal.

        Most of my books are poetry books and perhaps a poem or two will come to me and I will put it here. Except what I seem to be doing of late reflects having gotten flourishes of a character named Camille. Or maybe another piece about Foucault’s History of Madness. But, what I should be doing is studying for the LSAT. I am so easily distracted. My general preoccupation is with truth and the role it plays in our lives.

      • Probably projection on my part. LOL! I wonder why.

        LSAT! Pshaw. You choose to enter a box and shut the lid over yourself…..

        But I know life isn’t so simple. I can’t take that one bit of info and run with it.

        Besides, ideally the conquered LSAT will land you in a position to be able to defend and support truth (once you’ve found it, that is).

      • Projection.

        The box is closing, but it is only for fear of regret that I am curling inside.

        Yes, I am hoping I can defend truth and support it, less of course the costs of going to school.

      • I know why it was an older woman I saw, why she works better than the younger. She embodies the cliché. She’s used up.

        Not that I plan to feel used up in another decade. 😉 But I know better than to be out at 4 AM, at this stage of things.

      • There’s a bias, even uglier than racism, that the old are uglier than the new, for in the end, as you will see, and as I alluded with the character Thomas, if God is love, focusing on the exterior is to think that the outside was the point.

      • I do want to address this issue of the writer before a piece of paper and in front of a screen. What I have noted, especially on Facebook, is an unprecedented openness, which would not be had in person, where what we say to one person is not necessarily what we would say to all parties, at least not equally. On Facebook, for example, I have both family and friends and I am fairly open with all of them, not realizing that in writing a post, I might be thinking of the person who started the discussion vs. all the other people I am friends with. And there was study done, which said that people tended to tell the truth to a screen vs. saying something to the person in reality. And like you said, we can appear cocky, which may not be the intended result, and we can be cocky if we want to and either succeed or not.

        I am glad the post warmed you. I realize you have feelings. It is nice to know that I can affect them.

      • Most of us do. It was passion from which you spoke. I didn’t take it personally bc it was a simple, innocent connection I was making, age and the common (though inaccurate) perception of being obsolete.

      • The statement was an affirmation to myself about what I am learning with my mother and her predicament in an old folks’ home. The words that came to me seemed real. I do real, not because of you, but because you inspire me.

      • I really am sorry about Mom. That’s tough. You had made the comment in zealous fear. I have to leave it at that. As to confidence…so interesting you say that. Can’t get into it all, but for many years I struggled with a mix of of this along with the uncertainty, always believing I wasn’t good enough despite feedback to the contrary. Very high standards. Yes, I don’t feel the latter anymore. Usually.

    • I, actually, almost redid the line about the facets of life we all experience, and wanted to add a few, but saw 1) they then belonged in a different piece all their own so they wouldn’t detract from the main point 2) notably, a poem.

    • No, epic isn’t the word. Though it sounds just a little less proud, the Why We Read felt something along the lines of my magnus opus, for the soul I poured into it and the scope of history I was examining, how we’ve been telling stories since the dawn of time. I spent a whole day’s worth of pay. Could’ve been giving private lessons, help pay the bills. But no, the romantic had to write. If I was able to offer a glimpse of Beauty and Truth in the human experience, it is reward enough – and feedback like yours even more a treat. Among all the lovely feedback I’ve been blessed with, you’re the only one who’s thoughtfully challenged and engaged me. I fear these gracious bloggers wrongly feel I’m not game for suggestion and sparring. In any case, I was glad to see you’ve been able to work on your own writing which time didn’t allow me to stay for as long as I would’ve liked. And I did tweak the “become paralyzed” which I in fact hadn’t been crazy about when I was posting.

    • You root for the underdog, don’t you? 😉 Ha ha. I was going to respond to Professor Duke under this post that idioms hold up writing a bit better. Thanks for the support. How did you get that accent over the e in the second syllable? I didn’t see it in the toolbar. I so wished I could apply the mark. Xxx Diana

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  4. The A – Z of Cliche.

    “As far as the eye can see” it’s the “blind leading the blind.” They’re “coming out of the closet” “dressed to kill” but hey, “everyone has a cross to bear.”
    Don’t trust those “fair weather friends”, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” but don’t worry about it because, “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”
    Now “I wasn’t born yesterday” and I don’t want to “jump the gun” but I “know which side my bread is buttered on.” There are those who laugh and tell me I’m “looking at the world through rose coloured spectacles”, but there’s “more than meets the eye” to what we’ve got here.
    In life, my motto is “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I thought of it myself, just “off the top of my head.” I know what you’re thinking… that I’m trying to “pull the wool over your eyes.” But “quit horsing round” and “read between the lines”, because when the “shoe is on the other foot” you’ve got to “take the bull by the horns.” Sure, it’s an “uphill battle” but remember always that “variety is the spice of life” and “when all is said and done” “X marks the spot.” And if you think that’s all there is… well “you ain’t seen nothing yet” so “zip it and keep it shut.”

    Hi Diana,
    Hope all is well with you in your world, I actually came to your blog today because I was trying to find a post that you wrote in which you asked people if they ever gave “critique” to someone elses work in the blog world or did we merely say nice things regardless of what we actually thought. It has been something that I have been thinking about a lot recently and in some ways have been quite frustrated with in the blog world. It probably isn’t the best place to be able to improve your poetry writing because it seems that there is more of a culture of back slapping and hugs, which is fine but not very beneficial for us as writers who want to improve their art.
    There is however a poetry website that is excellent for this, in fact it is actually encouraged and enforced that you must give feedback and critique on other people’s poems before posting your own poetry. I should have told you about this site a while ago because I know that you would appreciate it. I have been using it for a year now and even though at first it is hard to give critique it does get easier but the more wonderful outcome from giving critique is that your own poetry improves a great deal also. There is a lot of emphasis put on the choosing of the perfect word for the poem, something that we have talked about and one of the other things I have learnt there is the dreaded curse of the cliche. So when I came here today to tell you about this website and found your article on cliches, it just reaffirmed that it is necessary that I tell you.
    The site is called poetry pig pen and it is at
    I know that you will appreciate it a lot, it really is one of the only places I have found where you can get feedback and there are some excellent people using the site who really know their stuff. It has been in my mind for a couple of weeks now that I should tell you, so now I feel better that I have done.
    The poem at the top “The A – Z of Cliche” I wrote for fun for the PoetryPigPen after there was a huge ongoing discussion about cliche. It is one of the very few times where I have been able to use cliche in an original way.
    I’m glad I’ve told you about the poetry site now, if you have time, do use it. It is excellent and I wouldn’t use the word excellent unless it was anything else but excellent.
    Take care and be happy.

    • You bring me back to happy, Mark, when I’m all fizzled and frazzled. =) That is quite some poem there, buddy LOL, yes with original use of cliches. You can imagine how tired I am right now not to add that accent over the e.

      It was no. 12 in the group post:

      The site you sent is something. My brain hates layout like that. Ugh not bc it’s anyone else’s fault but ugh for the burden of my limited brain. Kinda overwhelming. ‘S why I don’t facebook. But I drank in a good look and think I can handle it – someday. You can’t know how busy I am managing this blog. I am officially forever behind getting back to readers, trying to homeschool and keep my house from growing all those weeds of messiness. But I got your heart, buddy. Thanks for thinking of me these few wks (as I had you in mind also)! It was a thoughtful reference in the context of all our cool talks.


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  6. Reading a cliché has never prompted me to a hair-tearing session. Maybe that says something about me, but I like to feel comfortable when reading and I feel the odd cliché holds up in a decent story.

    What I do hate, is the word used as a qualifier. It drags me out of the story. In one novel (a real book) I read recently, the first person POV girl spoke and then thought to herself it was a cliché! To me, it felt like it was the author apologising for her character’s speech.

    I think writers worry about clichés, not readers.

    My two gold cents worth. Thanks for stopping by my blog Diana.

    • *Clink Clink*

      Thank you, Christine. Point taken, though I obviously notice them as a reader. But ahA – it’s the wRiTer in me who notices, you would say. =) That WAS an odd instance you happened on – yes, sounded like some bit overly self-conscious writing.

      I appreciate your time here. And the visit was a pleasure.


      • Christine’s first paragraph resonates with me. Books on writing and editing, taught me to avoid clichés. The discerning reader and writer notice them. But if the aim of my writing is to inform as well ‘educate’ then I owe my readers excellent writing that excludes clichés.

        I see writing that’s riddled with clichés and other errors, receive many likes and praise. I wonder sometimes if my standards aren’t too high. I can’t help myself, after I write, I use a word program to filter my work. Every highlighted cliché has to go! If it remains, it’s because I didn’t notice or I deliberately left it, in which case, I italicize it.

      • I believe C was saying she can tolerate most clichés. Posts riddled with a lot more other errors and pitfalls certainly rack up a lot of praise out here. Blogosphere IS a DIY culture after all, a free self-publishing platform, and not all readers seek more out of blogs. So a program catches your clichés, eh? And yes, Timi, you do well to bring up choice. I wasn’t putting out hard and fast rules. It is those who’ve mastered these who knows when and how to break them because (s)he knows why (s)he wants to.

  7. I enjoyed this! To add, I wouldn’t miss the exclusion of the term “fever dream” either. The whole point of creative writing is to use new words, to find new ways to express something.

  8. Well knock me down with a feather, I’ve been looking at poetry through rose coloured spectacles all this time. I thought I knew it all but it was all Greek to me. From now on I cross my heart, I will no longer use any cliches, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I mean it. It’s back to square one for me, but I suppose it’s better late than never!!!!
    Nothing ventured nothing gained. I’m gonna be like a kid in a candy store now with all this new freedom, I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel for far too long, it’s almost as if I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. No more shooting myself in the foot. In a nutshell I’m gonna make a change. It might be an uphill battle at times but I’m gonna grab the bull by the horns and give it my best shot.

    I can feel a new poem in my bones, oh what the hell I’ll just spit it out.

    “As far as the eye can see it’s the blind leading the blind. They’re coming out of the closet dressed to kill but hey, everyone has a cross to bear.”

    It’s about this guy who does all this stuff and then at the end he wakes up and you’ll never guess what…
    It was just a dream!!!!!!

    You can call me Mr. Original, catch you later!!!

    • You put up this comment – with your prose poem – before. I’m replying through the notific window so I’m not sure if it was on this board (this is a repost) or the guest post at OM’s. =)

      I don’t mind. You did a great job at being terrible. Meant as kudos. *wink*

  9. Hey… I just noticed I’ve already commented on this post.
    Dam, it’s not so funny now. I put my heart and soul into that comment.

  10. What’s been bugging me lately is when people write – “and such and such delivered”. It seems like every crappily written restaurant review local magazines always have a line like, “They promised delicious home cookin, and they delivered!”

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

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